James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
Now it came to pass, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed,Nehemiah 7:1-13:31
A NEW GENEALOGICAL RECORD (Nehemiah 7)
The need for this assignment of duty to the two men named (Nehemiah 7:2), is not apparent unless Nehemiah contemplated a return to Persia. Later it will be seen that such return took place, but whether at this time or not, is not clear. To “fear God above many,” as Hananiah did, is a great commendation. It was customary to open the gates of a city at sunrise, but to do so in this case before the inhabitants were well awake and stirring, might put them at a disadvantage before their enemies (Nehemiah 7:3). The new walls were built on the old foundations, but the city they enclosed did not as yet hold the old population, which explains verse four.
The genealogical record (Nehemiah 7:5) was doubtless from Zerubbabel’s day recorded in the book of Ezra, and if some differences are discovered between this and that, they may be accounted for by the different circumstances in the two cases. The first was prepared at Babylon and this in Judea, with almost a century intervening. Of course a particular object of this record was the purification of the priestly and Levitical line with reference to the temple service.
A SPIRITUAL REVIVAL (Nehemiah 8-10)
It was in the seventh month (Nehemiah 7:73), at the feast of tabernacles, that the stirring event of this chapter occurred. Ezra is in Jerusalem still, though during Nehemiah’s governorship he has not been at the forefront. It may be that his time has been spent in preparing that edition of the Old Testament which has been associated with his name. His great usefulness is seen at this juncture (Nehemiah 8:1-8). Here is a great open-air meeting, and the Word of God has the place of honor. It is simply read and explained to the people, but as usual with mighty results. Behold the blessing which comes to a people when to a faithful ministry is added a godly ruler (Nehemiah 8:8-15). Pastors will appreciate a good text for Thanksgiving Day in Nehemiah 8:10. There is nothing which brings such joy to people as a knowledge of God’s Word, and nothing that makes them so practically mindful of others.
This feast proves a “protracted meeting” and is followed by a fast and other evidences of repentance (Nehemiah 9:9). Between the morning and evening sacrifices they devoted three hours to the Scriptures and three hours to prayer. Read the prayer carefully, which seems to have been uttered by the Levites on the “stairs,” or pulpits, erected for the purpose, in the open. Perhaps we have here only the substance of the prayers, or it may be that Ezra prepared a general prayer for all to use. Notice the pathos of verses 36-37, and the covenant in which the proceeding ended (Nehemiah 9:38 and Nehemiah 10:1-39).
The points of this covenant are interesting. They bind themselves to abstain from heathen marriages (Nehemiah 10:30), to observe the Sabbath, to give the land its seventh year rest, and remit debts in that year (Nehemiah 10:31), maintain the temple service and support the priests (Nehemiah 10:32-39).
A PATRIOTIC PRECAUTION (Nehemiah 11-12)
This measure (Nehemiah 11:1-2) was necessary to insure a proper guard for the capital. And as it involved danger and self-sacrifice on the part of the drafted ones they merited the public gratitude. Their names follow, and include the “Nethinim,” a designation difficult to determine, but supposed to mean the descendants of the Gibeonites of Joshua’s time, who were constrained to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. In any event they were men of humble rank in the service of the sanctuary. Various editorial comments occur in this chapter whose elucidation, in the lapse of time, is not easy. Some of these are the “second over the city” (Nehemiah 11:9), “ruler of the house of God” (Nehemiah 11:11), “the outward business” (Nehemiah 11:16), “the principal to begin,” etc. (Nehemiah 11:17), referring in general terms to assistants of the priests, collectors of provisions, leaders of the choirs, etc.
We may include in this division the dedication of the wall (Nehemiah 12:27-47), in which the leaders, accompanied by the singers and people from all parts of the land marched around it, pausing at different points for praise and prayer, and the presentation of sacrifices. Some idea of the religious hilarity of the occasion may be gathered form verse 43. The explanation of Nehemiah 12:45 seems to be that the officials named saw that no persons ceremonially unclean entered the temple. This was the duty of the porters ordinarily (2 Chronicles 23:19), but on special occasions singers were called on to assist.
A MORAL HOUSECLEANING (Nehemiah 13)
Nehemiah has reported at the Persian court and again, after an unknown period, returned to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 13:6), and finding there great laxity in regard to the temple service, Sabbath observance, and heathen marriages, all of which he vigorously reforms. Eliashib’s offense is the more reprehensible because of his sacred office (Nehemiah 13:4-5) turning the house of God into a palace for the entertainment of his heathen relatives. It was to be expected that such conduct of the high priest would affect the people as shown in the verses following (Nehemiah 13:10-14). When, however, the worship of God is neglected, his laws are generally dishonored (Nehemiah 13:15-18). Note Nehemiah’s decisive action in this case (Nehemiah 13:19-22), and the pattern it affords for modern executives. There is this difference, however, that Nehemiah was an official over a people who had a fear of God in their hearts. Our executives serve a democracy where the people themselves are esteemed as the highest authority. “How far will the people sustain us?” is the question before their eyes in the performance of duty, and the execution of the laws. No wonder that their actions are often marked by timidity and insincerity.
It will be only in the millennial age, which may God hasten, that conditions will produce and maintain governors of Nehemiah’s type. Verse 25 shows that he was not influenced by the sentimentalism of these times to substitute reformatory measures in the place of punishment for wrong- doing.
1. What was the commendation of Hananiah?
2. What explains the particularity as to genealogical records?
3. What may have been Ezra’s great task at this period?
4. Tell the story of the revival of this period in your own words.
5. Who probably, were the Nethinim?
6. What three reforms are entered upon after Nehemiah’s return from Persia?
7. What hinders executives such as he, today?